Saturday, August 30, 2008

jamón ibérico de bellota

The woman behind the counter at Zingerman's asked me if I wanted a taste of the Bellota. She'd been helping me (et al) with a terrific set of cheeses (account to come with pictures later), and I'd commented on the iberico which was finally let into the States in recent months. Even though Zingerman's has a policy that anyone can taste any product, I still felt guilty asking for a taste of something that cost $200 a pound. Considering that a leg of this will run you--if you can get it--as much as $2000, this qualifies as the most expensive food I've ever tried.

When the guy who managed the cheese counter heard I was trying the bellota, he said, "It will ruin you."

He was right. Not even the rarest prosciutto or serrano I've had has compared to the balance of salt and butter that lit on my tongue as the small taste literally melted on my tongue. I could see pairing it with some remarkable small-dairy cheeses, particularly goat and sheep, some very briney olives, and something sweet like figs or apricots to brighten the flavors. Regardless, the jamon would pull it all together with the layers of flavor--from salty to sweet, gamey to serrano--and textures--the meat itself and the buttery layer of fat that adds so much to the overall feeling on your tongue.

There is nothing quite like that, and in this extended love letter to Zingerman's, I must say that that is what I hope for and expect from this singular place.